Our Towns

Local Farmers Nurture Growing Client Base

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — While the industry is not without challenges, overall, times are good for small local farmers.

About 10 years ago, demand for fresh fruits and vegetables started to grow, and it’s shown no signs of stopping, reported several farmers at the July Youngstown Farmers Market at the B&O Station.

“It’s picked up in the last three years. We’re hoping it continues,” said David Huffman, of Huffman Fruit Farm in Salem.

“It’s wonderful and we’re selling like crazy,” said Patty Brungard, owner of Brungard Farm Market in New Middletown.

Brungard, who has been farming since the 1980s, sells most of her products at her farm. She used to rely on word-of-mouth advertising to reach new clients, but that’s changed thanks to social media, which has “been a big help,” she said. The growing number of farmers markets also makes it easier.

“Even if you run out of something, you give them a card and they know where you’re located and they come out to the market,” she said.

While there is demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, the cost remains a hurdle for many in the region. Through community outreach initiatives, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. learned the No. 1 reason area residents don’t purchase healthful food is because it’s too expensive, said Tom Hetrick, who manages the Youngstown Farmers Market.

“There is a small access problem, there’s a small transportation problem, but the number of people who say it’s the cost dwarfs the others,” he said.

Tom Hetrick manager of the Youngstown Farmers Market, said cost is the No. 1 reason people don’t buy fresh produce.

To address the problem YNDC partnered with Mercy Health-Youngstown to find a way to improve access to the underserved population.

Through a grant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, anyone who receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and is seen by a Mercy Health physician, can receive a $25 voucher to use toward the purchase of fruits and vegetables. “And then if they use their [SNAP] card they can double up to $30,” said Saralee Greenfield, community health nutrition educator with Mercy Health-Youngstown.

Enrolled residents, of which there are more than 700, can purchase items at the Youngstown, Warren and Howland farmers markets. They can also use their SNAP card to purchase up to $10 worth of fruits and vegetables at seven area supermarkets: Save-A-Lot stores on McCartney Road, Gypsy Lane and South Avenue in Youngstown and North Park Avenue in Warren, and Sparkle Market stores on Meridian Road and South Avenue in Youngstown and Parkman Road in Warren.

“The mission of Mercy Health is to help the underserved. So it ties in perfectly,” said Greenfield.

Now that they have access, area residents have shown themselves to be hungry for local food. That demand is one of the reasons Matt Herbruck, owner of Bird Song Farm in Hiram, enjoys making the trip to Youngstown.

“I enjoy coming here because I don’t think there’s a lot of access to fresh organic food,” he said.

Tim Loya, owner of Farm 153 in Jefferson, has been attending the Youngstown Market since 2012.“I’ve always been treated very well here,” he said, stopping for a moment to help a woman choose from among his herb plants. “It’s great for the respiratory system,” he said of the Hyssop plant she selected.

He added, “People like the fresh food. The problem is we don’t have enough in the area.”

Floyd Davis, owner of Red Basket Farms in Kinsman agrees.“We have a hard time producing enough to meet all the demand,” he said.

Davis and his wife tend 15 acres of land and 20,000 square feet of greenhouse space, allowing them to farm year-round. They sell their produce at the farm, as well as to restaurants and schools in the Cleveland area.

Two years ago they started a program where, once a week, customers are sent a list of available produce by text, “and you pick so many items for $20, so many items for $40. That took off,” said Davis.

Fifteen people signed up the first year, and that number grew to 50 the following year.

“Right now we have about 200 people on a waiting list,” Davis said.

Some, he noted, drive from as far away as Boardman, Poland and Canfield to purchase his products.

“The demand is definitely there.”

Pictured above: Matt Herbruck, owner of Bird Song Farm, displays produce for customers.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.